Many campaigns are based around cool plots, interesting characters, and awesome settings. No matter how cool your campaign intrigues are, however, you’ll need an awesome fight scene at some point. While your heroes might be fond of solving all their problems with words and skill checks, there will come a time when they get the itching feeling that the villain simply needs a good drubbing to solve all the world’s problems. This is born from the basic human instinct that all problems can be solved at a critical juncture if you simply hit them hard enough with a hammer. Classically, this takes the form of the Russian astronaut kicking the 40-billion-dollar computer to miraculously get the engines on the shuttle to start. Whatever the psychology, it’s there, and it works.
Given that you’ll need a good fight scene, we now have only to quibble about minor points of realism and what form this scene will take. Most people try to think up the craziest bad guy they can and then put the PCs in a nigh-unwinnable situation which they’ll virtually always win. Other people flip over to the ‘will-kill-you’ section of their monster manuals and then toss that at the players. Whatever your system, so long as your recognize the need for a huge showdown, you’re good to go.
The grand finales of many successful games include all kinds of intriguing elements such as: puzzles, dialogues, monologues, traps, magical gizmos, and erupting volcanoes. Instead of worrying about all that, it’s best if you just focus on the huge fight scene.
A huge fight scene needs several things to be successful. First off, the players actually have to be apprehensive about the coming fight. It’s no good if they all sigh and say, “Aw, not another dragon.” And then lazily pull out their magical long-swords. A huge fight scene which comes out of left-field is equally as problematic. Nobody can get properly scared of a fight they didn’t even know was coming. They’ll likely tromp on the villains before they realize they were supposed to be super dangerous.
Secondly, the fight itself must last a certain duration to be deemed credible. No huge fight scene ever lasted under twelve seconds. All huge fights, by definition, must last a long time. I’m not talking about dragging the fight into the realms of boredom, but there has to be time to build up the momentum in a good fight. I figure, the bad guy has to actually get at least one good shot in, or the fight doesn’t qualify.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the huge fight scene has to have a grandiose element. The whole point of a huge fight scene is being over-the-top. If the bad guy isn’t the biggest, the toughest, the meanest, and the most over-powered thing the players have ever seen—then you’re losing points fast. It may not be possible—or reasonable—to continually outdo yourself, but you can at least give the new villains some crazy edge the party has never seen before; like being utterly invincible, or shooting 30d6 laser beams from their eyes.
The following are some fight scene ideas which should probably never be used in any serious game. GMs are fond of making up their own epic battles, and using someone else’s ideas should be the last resort. That said, if you like something, steal it.
The Evil Wizard
This guy is so powerful he can do practically anything. He knows all the spells of both Clerics and Wizards, and he probably knows some 10th and 11th level spells as well. Not only that, he can cast infinite numbers of all spells at-will, cast two spells at the same time, make up new spells on the spot, and he can do anything which can be blamed on ‘magic’.
The evil wizard will probably have a ‘pet’ which is powerful enough to destroy just about anyone. He’ll make liberal use of such spells as: teleport, invisibility, and ultimate fireball. Ultimate fireballs are the same as regular ones except they do however much damage the GM wants.
The weakness of the evil wizard is that he’s so arrogant he’ll overlook obvious threats which can kill him. Not only that, he also wears no armor and can be killed by the average dagger blow.
The evil wizard makes for a good fight scene because he can do practically anything he wants with magic and that scares the players.
No matter what this creature is, it’s huge. I’m not talking regular huge, but totally massive. This thing is so big it could step on metropolises to destroy them. It could be a dragon, humanoid, spider, piece of Jell-O, or whatever. Savvy players have respect for huge creatures because such creatures can step on them and kill them without rolling for damage. Huge creatures can also eat people which generally kills them, also.
The giant creature is rarely working alone. There’s probably an evil wizard who summoned him and an army of lesser foes around him to get squished for dramatic effect.
The tactics of a giant creature are fairly simple: eat people, step on people, fall on people (when taking damage), ignore damage with thick skin, throw unbelievably huge things at people to squish them (whales, the empire state building, etc.), and roar loudly while doing so.
To make a giant creature a credible foe, the GM must explain to the players early on that there’s no saving throw or hit point damage for getting hit with a falling building, you just die. This will make the players scared for their lives because the GM can kill them on a whim. If they’re still not scared, the giant creature can threaten to step on a metropolis if they don’t agree to chuck down their weapons and face it in a wrestling match.
The weakness of giant creatures is getting hit in the head with a small rock. Seriously, though, they’re usually incredibly stupid and slow; making them easy targets for magic, mind control, and pretty much everything else. Players are also fond of ‘going for the eyes’.
The giant makes for a good fight scene because players usually respect things a billion times bigger than them.
The Black Knight
This character is almost always a human working for some other evil force, probably an evil wizard. The black knight doesn’t say much, but he’s epic with a sword. All black knights are probably warriors of at least 20 levels beyond the highest level anyone is allowed to get in the warrior class.
In combat, a black knight is essentially unbeatable. No matter how good the party is at fighting, a black knight will always tromp them utterly. He’s tougher, stronger, and faster than anyone. He gets 15 attacks per round. His sword can cut through anything. His armor is impervious to all attacks. He rides a black horse with fiery red eyes.
The weakness of the black knight is that he’ll have nothing to do with magic, and he obeys someone else. Casting a simple spell like Charm Person or Sleep on him will probably yield an easy victory.
The black knight makes for a good fight scene because he can beat up the party to no ends. Also, most parties will attack villains on sight in melee combat, so this plays right into the black knight’s wheelhouse. If the players get wise and cast a few spells on him or fly over his head, then you may have a problem. Backing up the black knight with a wizard who casts dispel magic or fly on him can solve this problem, but make him an unstoppable juggernaut at the same time.
If not overused, dragons almost always make for great fight scenes. The dragon is already portrayed as one of the most fearsome creatures around. Generally, you won’t have to do much to hype up the dragon’s deadliness.
Dragons have huge size, cast magic spells, have hyper-intelligence, have incredible senses, live practically forever, wear invincible scales, and breathe fire. Did I mention they can fly?
Played properly, a dragon can use just about all the tactics of any other villain you can think of. They can potentially cast infinite spells, squish people, burn down cities, and eat people.
The problem with dragons is that they also come with huge hoards. Most players won’t let you get away with a dragon who happens to be punch broke even though he’s been laying waste to the entire world for the past 500 years. The other problem is that they’re such an obvious choice for a huge fight scene that they can easily be overused GM: “You turn the corner and see…a dragon!” Everyone: “Again?”
Dragons don’t generally have any weaknesses unless you’re feeling in a good mood that day.
The definition of a demon is probably: an unrealistically evil creature from another dimension you can’t easily get to. He’s also really powerful and wants nothing better than to trash up the world. Basically, this means that demons work well for huge fight scenes.
Because demons come from some other dimension, you can feel justified in giving them all kinds of wonky powers the players would never let you give to anything else. Players: “He’s immune to all damage except from +4 light swords?” GM: “Oh, yes, everyone from his ‘realm’ is like that. Pretty normal there, really.” Players: “He regenerates all damage taken from anything but fire?” GM: “Yes, it’s the yellow sun of earth. It makes him really powerful here, and he can also fly really fast and go back in time.”
Demons have horns. Other than that, it’s up to you.
The weakness of most demons is something really sissy, for the most part. Generally: iron, silver, magic, or anyone who can cast ‘Banishment’. If this troubles you, just say he’s a demon prince and gets to circumvent the usual weaknesses of the other demons because of his high rank in extra-planar society. Most players won’t argue the logic of this because they can then brag about beating out a bigger foe and princes generally have more money.
Demons can make for good fight scenes because, apart from the horns, the players don’t really know what they’re facing.
The beauty of this villain is that he can be anyone: a little girl, a bald guy, a hunchbacked Halfling, an elf with cross-eyes, etc. He doesn’t have to have powerful magic, a strong constitution, or the ability to swing a sword. All he needs to have is an unusually powerful mind.
Because it can sometimes be hard to properly role-play genius, you can simply give this kind of character infinite amounts of any resource you feel like. I.e. because of his incredible intelligence he has infinite money. His incredible wittiness has earned him the undying loyalty of millions of goblins who will do anything he commands. His super genius regularly yields up new versions of computer software and the ability to mind control people by looking at them.
Essentially, all you have to do is work backwards from whatever end-goal you have. For example, if you want him to be invisible, just say that he experimented with alchemy until he discovered the secret to invisibility but a huge lab fire torched the recipe and even he can’t remember how he did it.
The genius, despite his vast intellect, will always be trying to do something incredibly stupid and counter-productive to the world: like fill it with magma or obliterate the moon with a nuclear missile. Who knows why he does this stuff, he just does.
Like the evil wizard, the genius is most often physically weak. He’s also liable to make really stupid mistakes like creating an impregnable fortress of death lasers but forgetting to lock the door to his bedroom. He’s probably also an egomaniac, and using his pride against him could be an easy win.
Geniuses make for great fight scenes because the GM can ask the players: “What would be the smartest thing for him to use against you?” and then feel perfectly justified in using that suggestion under grounds of, “Well, he’s a genius, see?”
The Invincible Foe
When the GM is running short of ideas for good enemies, simply making just about anything ‘invincible’ can often be a great trick. Nobody’s really scared of a goblin (unless they’re new to RPGs), but if he’s an ‘invincible’ goblin, that’s a different story. Now, he’s officially annoying.
It’s a good rule of thumb that any invincible foe be given a decent attack of some sort. Otherwise, the party might just sit there beating up on him all day and that can get really tiresome.
Players are justifiably wary of invincible creatures because they’re so cheap.
By definition, invincible enemies don’t really have a weakness. However, the players will argue that any foe must have at least one weakness. Ignore their words at your own risk. Also, players will quite often find ways of dealing with pesky foes like burying them in concrete or scattering their ashes to the four corners of the globe.
Invincible foes make for good fight scenes because they’re hard to kill off. However, this can backfire if the players get too annoyed at your incredible cheapness.
Aliens and Deities
Aliens, like demons, come from really far away. They can also have whatever technology and physical characteristics you can think of. Not only that, but their weird mindset can explain just about any irrational activities you can come up with.
Deities, on the other hand, don’t really have any business fighting the PCs. It’s usually the PCs who decide to go and have a beef with them. As the GM, you have two basic options. One is to say the deity is so powerful you can’t even fight them and then it does whatever it wants. And two is to allow the fight to take place which is like admitting the guy can actually get beaten.
Deities and Aliens can make for a good fight scene because you don’t even have to explain why they’re so powerful. It’s kind of just inherent in the nature of who they are. What you ‘will’ have to explain is why the party is fighting them in the first place. Most players don’t take kindly to being attacked by aliens if you have no good reason for it.
The weakness of aliens and deities is generally up to you. Given their immortal/weird nature, you can also probably have them come back to life with less questions asked than usual. Players may get touchy when an evil wizard comes back from the grave, but if he’s Thor they shouldn’t be able to say much.
The Big Fight
Whatever you choose, try to have fun. Also try to remember that not all great adventures need to have huge fights. It just tends to end up that way.